Incentives Proposed To Lure Teachers To AtRisk Schools

May 16, 2002
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LANSING — Educators may have an additional reason to work in at-risk schools and areas experiencing a teacher shortage if legislators approve a new financial incentive.

Pushing the notion is Sen. Glenn Steil, R-Grand Rapids.

“It’s well known that Michigan’s inner cities need our attention and investment,” Steil contends. “My bill will help attract bright young educators to our neediest schools to help ensure that the education we provide in all schools across the state is the best it can be.”

The Teachers Loan Forgiveness Program would provide educators $3,000 toward the repayment of their college loans after teaching full-time for two years in qualifying schools.

Educators could reapply after completing four, six and eight years of teaching in the districts. The money — a maximum of $12,000 — can only be applied to loans for their first four years in college.

“By helping pay off student loans, we will encourage real commitment and investment in the future of our at-risk schools,” Steil said.

“A teacher shortage is not something that should be taken lightly.”

The program would not be retroactive for those already teaching in at-risk schools.

“The aim is to bring in new and qualified teachers,” said Steil’s chief of staff, Brandon Stewart. “There’s the issue of how much money will be available.”

The bill would create a fund to distribute the money. The Treasury Department would issue funds to lenders to be applied toward the unpaid balance of their loans.

The source of the money hasn’t been determined, but Stewart expects it to come from general tax dollars, adding that even if the bill passes this year, there would still be a three-year period before anything is paid out.

Educational advocates think the bill is a good idea but that it won’t solve the problem.

“It's a nice thing, but not enough,” said Lu Battaglieri, president of the Michigan Educational Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and school employees

“It’s only putting makeup on the problem. We need to get to the root of the issues and the problems. Our kids in our urban areas need more than that.

“If we get rid of the pay shortage and the respect shortage, there won't be a teacher shortage,” Battaglieri said.

The proposed program classifies an at-risk school as a public elementary or secondary school where at least 50 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-priced lunch. Out of 3,445 schools in Michigan, 924 would fit the criteria under 1999-2000 data.

In Michigan, about 3,000 new teachers are hired each year and about a third of them work in high-risk schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Two out of five teachers leave education after their first five years,” Battaglieri said. “This number is greater in our urban areas.

“It’s a little bit like merit pay and there’s somewhat of an insulting piece to that,” he said of the proposed incentives. “There’s the insinuation that people aren't working hard enough at it and if you offer them more money they’ll work harder.”

The bill's supporters don’t see a problem with the possibility of the incentive being just a temporary fix — with teachers leaving after they’ve received the maximum amount of money.

Stewart said, “From teachers we’ve talked to, once they’re in the school, they feel it’s rewarding and won’t leave. It’s our hope people see the inherent goodness in what they’re doing.”        

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